EAST HARLEM — The city's beleaguered public housing agency with its broken infrastructure and repair backlog is planning to put property managers at individual developments in charge of maintenance and repair.
The new pilot program, scheduled to launch in a handful of developments in January, is a significant change from the housing authority's current policy of sending maintenance requests to their borough office, according to NYCHA residents.
Property managers will be given their own budget to oversee repairs and have the authority to contract out experts for larger jobs.
"I think the attempt here on their part is to test the pilot to see whether decentralized management can be made more efficient, more effective and more responsive to NYCHA residents," said Victor Bach, the Senior Housing Policy Analyst for Community Services Society.
On Monday, the city gave NYCHA $101 million to help repair infrastructure and increase security in their developments.
The money, which the Manhattan District Attorney's office got from a massive penalty paid by bank BNP Paribas for violating U.S. sanctions, will pay for new doors, a more sophisticated entry system, improved exterior lighting and security cameras inside and outside New York City Housing Authority buildings and in the elevators.
In November, Akai Gurley was shot and killed by a police office in a darkened stairwell. Gurley decided to take the stairs because the elevator at the NYCHA building was slow. The light on the stairwell had been broken for several days.
“Public safety is key to quality of life, especially for those New Yorkers most disproportionately affected by crime,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance in a statement. “Just 5 percent of New York City residents live in public housing, yet NYCHA accounts for 20 percent of all violent crime citywide."
The pilot program should help the city's housing agency tackle their backlog problem, residents said. In 2013 the city Housing Authority had 420,000 requests and residents would often go months without basic repairs, the New York Daily News reported.
Property managers are currently being trained for the program by NYCHA. They will be placed in Wagner, Lincoln, Jefferson, Wilson and the East River Houses, said Abigail Javier, 73, the president of Jefferson's Tenant Association.
NYCHA has been meeting with tenant association presidents at participating developments for months, Javier added.
NYCHA did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
A property manager at one of the participating developments confirmed that NYCHA is training a new manager to come in once the pilot program begins. She did not say what would happen to current property managers and declined to give her name.
While residents are hopeful the pilot program yields results, they fear it will be useless if the managers are not given enough money for the repairs.
“It sounds good but my main worry is the budget,” said Javier. “The thing with housing is they say a lot of things and then when it come sometimes it is what they said and sometimes it isn’t.”
Under the current system, all maintenance requests go to NYCHA's borough office. Tenants then wait for them to contact property managers who inspect the damage and call back for repairs.
The process can take months because NYCHA tends to group projects together. For instance, if one development needs a new paint job, NYCHA will wait until other developments need paint and then paint them all at once, said Katie Harris, 82, the president of Wagner’s Tenant Association.
"With the new pilot program people can go directly to the manager," Harris said. "If I'm here in Wagner and my manager and staff are here why not go directly to them?"
Public housing advocates agree that the program may be a smart way of making repairs more efficient in NYCHA developments. However, there are a few concerns, said Bach.
“It clearly puts the responsibility more on sight on the property manager so I would think it’s a question of how they are selected, how experienced they are,” Bach added.
A larger concern, which NYCHA has had issues with before, is the budget. Conditions at NYCHA developments have deteriorated over the last 15 years and that is primarily because they don't have enough money for repairs, he said.
NYCHA has had budget issues since 2001, when they lost part of their federal, state and city funding, according to a report CSS released in July.
The report found that rodents, water leaks and heating complaints have increased dramatically between 2001 and 2011, which is when the most recent data is available. It remains to be seen if a 2013 repair program and media reports have made things any better, according to the report.
"By 2011, NYCHA reached a point where it might have qualified as the city’s largest and worst landlord,” the report states.